Annie hadn’t known it could get this good. Over the weekend, she’d surrendered to the love flowing for herself and everyone else. The workshop had provided a safe environment for participants to let down their guards, their judgments and insecurities and simply be as they are. Annie allowed herself to feel vulnerable and people responded with love and affection. She opened up to a whole new level of trust in Existence.
So it came as a big surprise when the letdown followed. Annie found herself quite discouraged. Nothing at the workshop seemed real now that she was back facing her same old unsatisfying life. Nothing seemed worth it, all this working on herself. Her faults came into sharp focus. The disappointment was as overwhelming as the previous experience was high.
What Annie is experiencing is called ego backlash. It’s similar but not the same as the inevitable low that follows every high, such as the hangover after enjoying drinking, the Monday morning after a vacation, or coming down from psychedelic drugs. Ego backlash is the low that follows a particularly expansive, heart-opening experience.
When you taste freedom from the individual self, the ego becomes frightened. It knows that if you become free, it won’t be in charge any more so it fights for its life, sometimes viciously. If you become a person full of love, the ego’s existence is threatened. It will no longer be in control, so it doubles its efforts to keep you trapped and afraid of your freedom. The ego’s job is to keep you small and frightened. That’s the game. It’s not malevolent; it’s trying to keep you safe.
Every time you have a significant growth experience, your ego will provide you with a backlash. Once you learn that this is predictable, you can prepare for it. You can realize that it will rear its head and not take it so seriously. You can listen to the mental criticism and “helpful hints” to see if there is something valid about the thoughts or turn the sound off all together. You can be matter-of-fact about knowing ego backlash is an inevitable part of the process of spiritual growth.
You’ve probably heard the adage about personal growth that it’s, “two steps forward and one step back.” The step backward is inevitable, but it doesn’t negate that you are still a step ahead. And when you take the next two steps forward, you will be that much further on your way toward personal and spiritual freedom.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth